During the winter there are many casualties of weather…usually elder adults. A simple thing like a sleeping bag that is good down to 15 degrees can save a life. New warm white socks can prevent immersion foot; a terrible disorder that affects feet that can never get dry and clumps of flesh peel off and bleed. I made the decision that along with food I would had out new sleeping bags and new socks. They had to be new…Many times with the best of intentions we hand off our ‘throw a-ways”… For people who live on the fringe this message is detrimental as it implies unworthiness. Just like clothes that are handed down to the next child in line who is never allowed to feel the specialness of having something new, so it is when old and used things are passed out to those who are un-housed; no matter how they got there. I have discovered that when the feeling of unworthiness sets in it takes more than a place to live to make someone not “homeless” in the mind.
The first couple of time I handed out bags there were near riots of people desperate to get a bag, but I soon developed a system. I had to be shown a piece of identification that had their name on it. I wrote then name on a list and the next week I had to be shown the same piece of ID and they would receive a bag. I bought 150 bags a week to hand out. The ID could be a library card, green card, bus pass, or a license, anything that had a name on it. I handed out bags each Sunday. I stood on the sideboard of my van and started calling the names on the list. There were two lines. One that was already on the list, and one that was waiting to be put on the sleeping bag list. As the called their names I would check ID’s, hand the bag off, and cross their name off the list.
One time I was handing out bags and people were pushing and hollering. I got a little scared so I climbed up and stood on the Memorial Wall at the plaza and I tried to yell over them. There were some very angry guys who had gotten bags the week before but they wanted another one and thought they could bully me into giving them over. I told them they could not have another bag because there were so many people in line that had never received a bag. They screamed in my face. They were yelling at me and everyone else was yelling at them. I held up my arms and in an effort to be heard over them asked for silence. All of a sudden it was silent…Very silent… I thought they were finally quieting down for me and I was full of myself…
From the corner of my eye I caught a movement a bit to the side and behind me and so I slowly turned around. There I discovered the reason for the sudden silence. Two giant 7 foot Samoans had climbed up on the wall and were standing behind me pointing at the miscreant men that had caused such mayhem… The two men quietly walked away. Everyone else in line was sniggering… Guardian Angels come in all sizes.